After speaking at a Practicum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, I was listening to the radio on my way back to the hotel. American Family Radio was airing a program called “Crane Durham’s Nothing But Truth.” On this program, the subject of worldview was being discussed. The speaker referred to our worldview (our philosophy) as “the water in which we swim.” Ruminate on that idea for a minute before reading on.
If true, would we not expect to be engulfed in that water? To become fish comfortable swimming in that water? Would not this philosophical ocean affect our children as well? And if those murky waters repulse us, what can we do about it?
Indeed, we all swim in a philosophical ocean. Our culture’s worldview surrounds us like water surrounds a fish, almost without exception. In the car, secular radio bombards us with the philosophies of Macklemore, Bruno Mars, Pink, Miley Cyrus, and Lady Gaga (look up their lyrics and you will instantly understand). In our homes, the barrage continues on television. It is nearly impossible to watch more than five minutes without encountering a blatant disregard of Biblical principles. In the grocery store, the magazine covers promote our culture’s philosophy of humanism, naturalism, existentialism, and so on. Video games, advertising, and even billboards round out the philosophical waters of our culture. However, there is one more philosophical aquarium that we daily thrust our citizens into—the classroom.
As homeschoolers, we spend much effort decrying public education by pointing to statistics that indicate a broken system, but all we are really doing is pointing to the symptoms. Perhaps a better understanding of the philosophy underlying public education will help us see the root cause of its brokenness. What kind of water fills the public education aquarium?
In order to understand the problems of our modern education system, we must look to the philosophy which undergirds it. To do so, we must go back in time to the late 1800s. According to the Encyclopedia of American Education, G. Stanley Hall had an overwhelming impact on our modern educational philosophy. Hall was a psychologist, educator, philosopher, and was a founder and first president of the American Psychological Association. He believed that educating children based on a core of required subjects was detrimental to the child’s development. Largely influenced by Darwin’s evolution theory and by Freud’s ideas on the human psyche, Hall theorized that emphasizing intellectual attainment was disadvantageous, and that the child’s needs should be placed at the center of the educational system. As a result, “Hall’s findings ushered in a new era of pedocentric schooling in which schools adapted to the needs of children.” In his own words, he believed that childhood “comes fresh from the hands of God” and that children were “not corrupt.”1 While his intentions may have been pure, his theories had a marked influence on another pioneer of American education, John Dewey.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, philosopher John Dewey made his mark on history and is still considered the Father of Progressive Education. According to PBS.org, Dewey had a “profound impact on education in the twentieth century” and continues to “wield influence at the dawn of the twenty-first century.”2 Dewey’s own philosophy was entirely humanistic, which became evident in his educational philosophy. In 1933, Dewey joined thirty-three prominent religious, educational, and philosophical leaders in signing the original Humanist Manifesto. In order to understand Dewey’s personal philosophy, a brief look at the Humanist Manifesto is in order.
The stated purpose of the Humanist Manifesto was to establish a new religion, the religion of Humanism. The document states, “While this age does owe a vast debt to the traditional religions, it is none-the-less obvious that any religion that can hope to be a synthesizing and dynamic force for today must be shaped for the needs of this age. To establish such a religion is a major necessity of the present.”3 The first two core beliefs of this new religion are that evolution is fact, and that all things are self-existing, not created. The fifth core belief is that “modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values.” 3 This same core belief insists that human needs will determine the value of reality. In other words, the concept of right and wrong are determined by “intelligent inquiry.”3 The ninth core belief states that converts to the Humanist religion will cooperate to “promote social well-being,” 3 which, according to the eleventh and thirteenth core beliefs, will be carried out by institutions (such as education and government). Interestingly, this belief mirrors that of a religious movement of the time called the “Social Gospel.” Ask your local Challenge III student for more information about this.
The fourteenth core belief establishes socialism as the superior economic framework, and hints at communism as the premier governmental framework. Finally, in the last paragraph, “Though we consider the religious forms and ideas of our fathers no longer adequate, the quest for the good life is still the central task for mankind. Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement.”3 Interestingly, in the second iteration of the Humanist Manifesto (1973), this last idea is stated much more succinctly – “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”4
So, if this was the philosophical water in which John Dewey swam, what sort of educational philosophy did the Father of Progressive Education espouse?
Watch for part two of this article later this month to learn Dewey’s impact upon education, government, and worldview.
1 – Encyclopedia of American Education.
2 – The Story of American Public Education.
3 – “Humanist Manifesto I.” http://www.americanhumanist.org/Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_I
4 – “Humanist Manifesto II.” http://www.americanhumanist.org/Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_I